Pod Life: Do Humpback Whales Travel In Pods?

do humpback whales travel in pods

The humpback whale is a traveling species that holds the title of having the longest migration of any mammal!

The impressive journey of these noble giants takes about 8,000 km / 4,970 miles EACH WAY! Do humpback whales travel in pods? Or do they undertake this long trip solo?

The short answer is YES! The humpback whale travels in pods.

However, these beloved creatures do not tend to be very social and prefer to be by themselves for most of the year with the only genuine lasting relationship being that of a mother whale and its calf. 

By reading on, you and I will set sail and be on our way to discover how the social organization of the humpback whale works for traveling pods and what social dynamics play out during these truly great migrations year after year.

Do Humpback Whales Really Travel In Pods?

Yes. Humpback whales really travel in pods. Traveling for these mammals takes place twice a year: when going to their colder feeding grounds and when returning to warmer tropical waters for parturition and calf raising. 

These 2 major processions take place as a pod but this social grouping is very loose and temporary, exclusive to the migration, which takes about 1 month each way.

After reaching the target destination the pod will dissolve and each individual will carry on by itself. 

For the rest of the year, the humpback whale is a solitary animal that will interact with other conspecifics in very particular situations.

For example: when employing cooperative fishing techniques such as their well-known “bubble-netting” method.

I find it important to clarify that although humpback whales are solitary they are not aggressively territorial and many different individuals will be seen together feeding, swimming, and relaxing in the same area without any issues.

The only recorded episodes of aggression between conspecifics take place during the breeding season when male humpback whales will vigorously compete with one another for the chance to mate with the available females. 

Where Do Humpback Whales Travel To?

These charismatic cetaceans have a very wide distribution and can be found throughout all of our world’s oceans.

When it comes to traveling during their yearly migrations different populations of humpback whales migrate to different places around the world for feeding and breeding. 

As a general rule, the humpback whale will migrate toward colder, nutrient-rich waters for feeding and then back toward the equator where the water is warmer for birthing and mating.

It is also believed that by birthing in more tropical waters the newborn calves will be better protected from orca attacks as they are extremely vulnerable to this apex predator.

Once they reach a certain size there is no animal that poses a threat to them besides humans. 

According to NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), there are currently 14 distinct humpback whale populations.

All but one, the Arabian sea population, engage in yearly migrations. Humpbacks living in the Arabian sea feed and breed in the same area year-round. 

For the rest of the populations the migration patterns look something like this:

  • 2 populations in the North Atlantic feed across a range in the Atlantic ocean that goes from the Gulf of Maine to Norway. Migration in the winter for calving and mating is towards the south off the coast of Cape Verde (Africa) and the West Indies. 
  • 7 populations in the southern hemisphere all feed in Antarctic and sub-Antarctic waters and then migrate towards the equator for calving and breeding.
  • The Western North Pacific population feeds in the Northern Pacific;  breeding and calving occur in Japan and the Philippines.
  • Hawaii’s population feeds in the North Pacific; breeds and calves in Hawaii.
  • The Central American population feeds off the West coast of the United States; breeds and calves along the Pacific coast of Central America. 
  • Mexican population feeds in an area that goes from California to Alaska; breeds and calves along the Pacific coast of Mexico. 

If you want more information regarding the monumental patterns of migration the humpback whales take on you can find it here:

How Big Is A Humpback Whale Pod?

Humpback whale pods are small ranging in size from 2 to 15 individuals.

Remember these pods are not permanent associations and no lasting bonds are created amongst the whales that join each other for traveling. 

It is not uncommon for some whales to tackle the extended trip alone usually at a faster pace than that of a group that must move at a less intense rate for slower members to keep up such as mothers with calves. 

What Is A Humpback Whale Pod Called?

The word “pod” when discussing whales refers to a group of individuals. Other ways to call these groups can be “GAM” or “school”; however, “pod” is by far the most widely used term for a group of cetaceans. 

Final Thoughts

I hope that today you have learned more about the dynamics of humpback whale traveling nevertheless I can’t let you go without telling you 2 very interesting facts about the migration of these creatures. 

First of all, I want to address the longest migration ever recorded for humpback whales.

It was a trip that went from American Samoa to the Antarctic Peninsula and it was a stunning 18,840 km / 11,706 miles long!

And secondly, whales do not eat during migrations! They fast for about 6 months out of the year losing about a third of their weight during the winter.

During fasting months humpback whales will live off the fat and blubber they accumulate from eating 2 tons of food a day while on feeding grounds. 

Animal migrations have always been a phenomenon that humans have found stunning and that provides an amazing insight into the health and well-being of ecosystems and different animal populations.

So it’s no wonder that we are particularly mesmerized by the long migration of a mammal as majestic and awe-inspiring as the humpback whale. 

What continues to strike me the most is that despite their huge size and how well-studied this species is, there is still way more we don’t know than what we do know when it comes to the gentle giants of the seas. 

So you shouldn’t be surprised if new information was ever to arise challenging what we previously thought we knew about animals with lives as elusive as whales and I personally believe that the mystery encompassed by it all is part of what draws you in. 

I hope you had fun learning about humpback whales today and please remember to come back for new facts and information about your favorite ocean-dwelling creatures.